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December 25th

This is the final chapter of a story entitled The Other One. To start at the beginning, click here. Thank you so very much for reading.

“You’re late! ;)”

There wasn’t a chance I would ever understand why Jenn insisted on ending every text message with some sort of smiley face. There also wasn’t a chance she would ever stop doing it, so I guess I just had to live with it. Plus, I wasn’t late. I had just pulled up to her place to pick her up. We weren’t late quite yet, but the rest of my family had already gathered at my parent’s house so we were certainly holding things up.

Jenn got in the car and greeted me with a quick kiss on the cheek. As she held my hand, the rock on her ring finger glistened in the sunlight. It would, of course, be a sunny and warm Christmas here in Manchester, Mississippi. I’m not sure we were capable of having any other kind of weather. Read More…

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December 30th

This is chapter FOURTEEN of a story entitled The Other One. It’s getting close to the end. To start at the beginning, click here.

“Well, here we are.”

Jenn and I stood in front of a tombstone that seemed all too unfamiliar to me. I don’t think she had ever actually known Ethan McLaurin, but she certainly knew who he was. I figured this would be the closest she would get to meeting him, and I figured I owed him another visit before I flew back to New York.

My bags were packed. I had already been to see Alex and Rachel and little Bryce, who has spent a great deal of time since his surgery sleeping. Recovery would take time, but all signs pointed to him living a life with very little limitations. I said a few words to Alex, we had a few laughs, and then I said my goodbyes. Jenn drove me here to the cemetary, and after this I would grab my stuff, say goodbye to my parents and Ashley, and she would drop me off at the airport.

“So why did you feel like you had to come back?”

I pondered her question just a bit before answering. “You know, I guess because his death was such a dividing point for me. I had a life that ended seven years ago at this very spot. I guess I had to stand here again when I still had the opportunity. Standing here seven years ago prompted this stage of my life. Maybe standing here again will prompt the next.” Read More…

December 29th

This is chapter thirteen of a story entitled The Other One. It’s getting close to the end. To start at the beginning, click here.

For once this Christmas season, we had a day of complete relaxation. A day of nothing to do and no places to be. Bryce was healthy and recovering and would probably be discharged earlier than planned. I guess he had much of a fighting spirit than we thought. Alex and Rachel were watching him closely, without worry, and the rest of us were able to just spend a lazy day at home.

Everyone except for my mother, though, who decided that our Christmas family dinner would have to happen tonight. She had practically barricaded the kitchen, making sure she could work on her masterpieces without disturbance. It wasn’t so much that we didn’t want to help her, but rather that we had all realized we were useless in the kitchen. We were a much bigger help to her if we stayed far, far away.

So for once, we were able to breathe easily. Ashley and I were able to watch the holiday specials we had missed because of the chaos that hit us so quickly. I was able to give Dad a hand with a couple of simple chores that didn’t require assistance so much as it required an extra pair of hands for him to boss around. Jenn was even able to stop by for a little bit to visit, which of course promptly some very awkward prodding from Mom and Ashley afterwards.

Everything was wonderful. Everything felt natural. The only problem is that it was going to suddenly be difficult to board that airplane tomorrow. Read More…

December 28th

This is chapter twelve (allegedly) of a story entitled The Other One. To start at the beginning, click here.

I was awake and ready to face the day at a respectable hour, but less out of choice and more out of solidarity. The entire family was at the hospital early, supporting Alex and Rachel as Bryce went into surgery. Something wasn’t working correctly in his tiny heart, and if it wasn’t fixed immediately, there was a slim chance he would survive to see his first birthday.

The atmosphere sat heavily in the waiting room, which was surely living up to its name today. About a half hour after surgery started, I was sent on an all important quest for doughnuts for the family. We all hoped that something along those lines would be a bit of a pick-me-up, and the sugar rush would also help our energy level. Maybe it was just wishful thinking, or maybe it was just stupid, but at this point, probably anything at all would ease the tension.

I drove in silence. It wasn’t that I wanted to do so, really. Just that I couldn’t think of any music I would want to listen to in a situation such as this. Nothing seemed to fit the overall mood, and since the drive to the doughnut shop wasn’t long, I certainly wasn’t in the mood to search for the right soundtrack. Read More…

December 27th

This is chapter eleven (or so I’ve been told) of a story entitled The Other One. To start at the beginning, click here.

No matter how much time is spent sleeping on a couch, it’s still sleeping on a couch. It’s never actually restful, and even when it feels great  at the time, when you get up you feel like you’ve missed the entire night and you’re bitter at the world for making you feel this way.

At least, that’s how I was beginning to feel on this particular day after waking up on Alex’s couch. I had slept well and peacefully for the most part, yet the actual waking up process was painful. I was suddenly longing for a nap in an actual bed, though I hadn’t been awake for more than five minutes. I figured that wasn’t a good sign for the rest of the day.

I had wandered over to Alex’s house the previous evening at Jenn’s encouragement, and as it turns out, it was great for both of us. It was a temporary break from the chaos around us, and I think we somehow both needed it.

We watched stupid movies and played stupid old video games and for a brief moment, had more of a teenage brother relationship than we ever had when we were actually teenage brothers. It helped me out tremendously because for a little while, I felt totally at home and at peace. I was able to enjoy a stupid evening of doing nothing with my brother, and that’s all the evening needed to be. I didn’t want to have to strain to think of things to say or do, I just had to sit down and hang out.

I didn’t have to think hard about what to say. I didn’t have to be a shoulder to cry on. I just had to be an opponent in a video game, nothing more. That was something I was sure I could handle. Read More…

December 26th

This is chapter ten of a story entitled The Other One. Wow, ten chapters? Really? That can’t be right. Anyways, to start at the beginning, click here.

Everything felt like it was moving in slow motion.

We had exchanged gifts, but it was more of a formality than anything else. The normal giddiness of ripping off the colorful paper was noticeably absent. It felt as though it was supposed to be a distraction from the tension of knowing a family member was hospitalized, but the presents were failing miserably at their purpose. We went through the motions, said thanks, and moved on as if it had to be finished before we could do anything else with our lives.

There was still no word on Bryce. He had become stable, had some trouble, then stabilized again. As far as we could tell, he wasn’t in severe trouble, but doctors had to pay close attention to him and still couldn’t tell what the problem was.

We could spend time in the waiting room. We could bring food and drink to Alex and Rachel. We could bring them changes of clothes. We could do all of these little things, but best we could tell, all we could really do was wait.

I chose to wait at my parents house, on the couch, isolated. I felt frozen, honestly. I had no idea what good my presence would be. I had some words I could share with Alex if he needed them, but really, those words only felt appropriate if things took a major turn for the worst. All I really knew was sorrow, I guess, and the waiting period was something I never could understand.

So this couch, by myself? That’s where I belonged. A place I could understand. Read More…

December 25th

This is chapter nine of a story entitled The Other One. To start at the beginning, click here. Merry Christmas!

If you had told me I would be spending another Christmas in a hospital, I wouldn’t have believed you.

My entire family found ourselves here on this morning, though, sitting around in a numbness, waiting for any news of what was going on with my nephew Bryce. At some point during the night, the doctors had been able to bring his breathing back, but nothing was stable as of yet. They said they had things under control, but not even Alex or Rachel were allowed out of the waiting room to see him. They said they had things under control, but still had no answers for us.

“Control” was a term we didn’t understand on this particular day.

*

There wasn’t anything to say to each other in that room. We were spread out in our seats, with my father sitting down the row from Rachel, who was being comforted by my mother and Ashley. Alex faced them, a couple of seats away from me, and stared at nothing in particular. You couldn’t see any expression on his face. There was only existence, which I guess is all any of us had at that point.

I’m not sure which was worse: the silence or knowing that it would eventually break. There was a little bit of peace in the current moment; the not knowing. As for now, there was something wrong, but it wasn’t totally real to us. There was something potentially really serious, but we had no way of being sure yet. So we couldn’t jump to conclusions; we couldn’t distress over what might be going wrong. We could only rest in this inbetween moment, before the transition to how our lives would soon look.

Something about tragedy that people don’t often mention is the change that happens. People know that tragedy is a terrible thing, and that in the moment it hurts. People often forget that every aspect of your life is different after a tragedy, if they’re not living through it themselves. Even when the roughest of the hurt passes, there are lingering effects.

Life isn’t the same, even after recovery. I knew that very well.

*

The last time I found myself in this room, I wasn’t looking down the road. I wasn’t looking at what might be different after I left. I wasn’t thinking about how much the outcome would determine the years that followed. And because of that, I wasn’t prepared for what was ahead for me.

I tried not to think about that day very much, but today it seemed natural to do so. I vividly recalled the heaviness that sat on my heart the entire time I was there. I don’t think I could afford to look ahead, as what was happening right in front of me blindsided me so. No amount of preparation, no matter how severe a disease is, prepares you for when it actually hits.

But that’s the thing: I couldn’t prepare, but I could reflect. My experience with this heavy room allowed me to look back, when I couldn’t look ahead, and this was huge. At this very moment, when the only place I could look was backwards, my brother had nowhere to look at all.

Things were difficult, but I knew what I had to offer. I knew how I could help.

*

Waiting rooms are awful places. There is a smell to them, some sort of stale odor, that reminds you of desperation. They make you realize your own weakness and fragility, as the coldness of the walls and stiffness of the chairs remind you how uncomfortable and alone you are.

But at the same time, you aren’t alone. Every person in that room is suffering in some sort of way, and there is an instant, unspoken connection. Nothing needs to be said. Nobody needs to hug strangers and let them know they’re in the same boat. It’s understood. And when you’re surrounded by family, that unspoken bond is even stronger, and infinitely more necessary.

A small tree sat, lit up, in the corner. It served as the only reminded to us that this day was supposed to be one of joy. There were no pleasantly wrapped boxes underneath it to warm our hearts with thoughts of gifts and laughter. But it still brought hope to us. It reminded us why we were all there, instead of being scattered all across the country.

The room was desperate and lonely, but it was not bleak. Not by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, that tiny glimmer of hope that we all felt from the tiny plastic tree brought a strange warmth to us in our moment of greatest need. Even as my brother and his wife were called over to talk to the doctor about what was wrong, we all felt strong. We felt united.

I don’t know what it was, really. I don’t know if it was just the unexpected hope that comes from this time of year. I don’t know if it was a faith we had in something bigger than ourselves. I don’t know if that faith had been rekindled in me. But I knew one thing, and it was never any clearer to me than it was now.

Even now, as my brother held his weeping wife. As they received news that wasn’t hopeless, but was still slim. As we knew this battle would be a long and hard one, not one that would be solved quickly.

Even with all of that, we knew we all had each others backs. We were there. We were together, as a family. We had weathered storms before, and this time around, if we all stuck through it together, we knew we would weather this one as well.

We would make it. And somehow, we would make Christmas merry for each of us once again. We would. We had to. We had no choice.

We were family, after all.